Online Communities Patented; Lawsuit Against Facebook Moves Forward

from the online-communities-of-interest? dept

It's always fun to see patent system defenders in our comments insist that the patent system rarely makes mistakes in issuing patents, and how really bad patents get pushed out upon review. And yet... then we hear stories like the following one. Four guys, back in 2001 filed for a patent (6,519,629) on a "system for creating a community for users with common interests to interact in." Seriously. Reading through the patent application, I'm having trouble seeing how this wasn't covered by a ton of prior art. What in that patent does not apply to early BBS systems, for example? And, even if there really is something new (I can't find anything), how is putting together an online community not an obvious thing?

Back in 2007, the company holding that patent, Cross Atlantic Capital Partners, sued Facebook. In turn, Facebook asked for the trial to be held up while it explained to some patent examiners that they were insane to think this was patentable. Apparently, the patent examiners haven't used the internet very much, and affirmed the validity of the patent -- so the lawsuit is now back on. This is just one in a growing series of patent lawsuits against Facebook -- once again highlighting that once you get big enough to be noticed, some nobody will sue you for patent infringement.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:30am

    Question:

    Are there any online communities specifically put together for patent examiners to go there, socialize, exchange stories of all the idiotic things they do, etc.?

    I don't know if there are, but I sure hope so. Irony is such a tastey treat....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:36am

    First country to rid themselves of software patents is going to have a spectacular amount of new business (my $$ on Spain). A thriving new economy that will actually produce rather than paying people, to have at one time, thought about producing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:52am

    Back in the early 1990's, a friend of mine owned a profit-making social-networking BBS that had been around for at least five years when he was audited by the IRS. The agent was incredibly rude and condescending - insisting this was a hobby, a fad, and nothing would ever come of it being a legitimate business. Luckily, he'd viewed the business from day one as a profit-making venture, and he had lawyers and financial people on retainer.


    Further, my friend was openly threatened with financial ruin and even criminal prosecution. In the midst of the audit, one of his children was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic head injury. When the IRS agent asked my friend's lawyers and accountant why he wasn't at a scheduled hearing, they explained 'His kid is having brain surgery.' The agent actually said out loud 'I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that story.' At least he had the decency (as we heard the story later) to turn beet red and apologize when the lawyer whipped out a copy of some paper from the hospital, proving the child was scheduled that day for brain surgery.

    Exhibit 1 was a Time or Newsweek magazine cover story about the future of the internet superhighway. By the end of the audit, not only did the agent decide my friend was actually owed a refund, but he apologized profusely. Which I thought was pretty funny - this was in the midst of the major asshole years of the IRS.

     

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  4.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 7:56am

    Re: Question:

    Sigh, answering my own question....

    There's a "Patent Examiners Extraordinaire" social group. Want to guess which site it is on?

    Yup. Facebook.

    FACEPALM!

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:09am

    Bye Mike

    Looks like you are infringing this patent mike. The community of commenters here seems to be covered so I guess this is the beginning of the end unless you quickly pay up.
    It's been great...

     

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  6.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:10am

    Re: IRS Audit.

    "this was in the midst of the major asshole years of the IRS."
    Umm... and what years has the IRS not been "major assholes"...?

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: Question:

    Did anyone post this to that Facebook Group?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Question:

    Not sure, can't get there from work. I can only see via a Google search that the group does in fact exist...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Joel (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:19am

    Lawsuits for All

    And one day in the near future everyone will be able to sue for anything and the world will be a better place........wait that was Thursday April 1st!

    Are they only going after facebook or are they going after all Social Networking Websites??

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:29am

    Re: Lawsuits for All

    MySpace would be next. And then everything else, right down to Apache-based forums.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:29am

    It sounds to me like some Facebook execs are going to get to spend some time in East Texas.

     

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  12.  
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    Dan T., Apr 5th, 2010 @ 8:54am

    Prior art

    Some likely prior art:

    1970s: Usenet, ArpaNet digests, early BBSs
    1980s: CompuServe, AOL, other proprietary online services
    1990s: Yahoo Groups, other web forum/chat services

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:24am

    Re:

    First country to rid themselves of software patents is going to have a spectacular amount of new business (my $$ on Spain). A thriving new economy that will actually produce rather than paying people, to have at one time, thought about producing.

    Pretty sure Europe mostly already excludes software patents. Not *entirely* as there was a lawsuit in the UK that changed the rule recently to allow certain software patents, but for the most part, software is not considered patentable in Europe.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:24am

    Re: Prior art

    Prior art? Thats like asking patent examiners to use the internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Chucklebutte (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:26am

    >.

    I run a web based forum, we have about 20 registered users, and countless guests, does this count? Am I to get lawyers? LOL! They can kiss my black ass!!!!

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:27am

    1998 - Original application filed.
    2000 - Continuation-in-part application filed.
    2001 - CIP filed in 2000 divided into two applications.
    2007 - Suit filed
    2008 - inter parties reexamination filed.
    2009 - Reexam (in which both parties involved) upheld claims
    2010 - Lawsuit restarted

    It helps to have a timeline since it helps determine the relevant dates for what is construed as "prior art".

    Based upon the results of the reexamination, it is likely that the parties will settle.

    As for what constitutes prior art, if this patent claims patently obvious subject matter, then it should be relatively easy for someone to read each claim (each claim stands on its own) and identify relevant prior art that pertains to each claim limitation in each claim.

    Of course, this is almost always easier said than done.

     

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  17.  
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    NAMELESS.ONE, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:59am

    prior ar

    united hackers association forum , for like minded hackers
    date 1996
    forums used cgi and such
    get bent this is another example of retarded legal system we all should really start ignoring cause the powers that be dont give a damn

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 10:13am

    Re: Re: Prior art

    That's like asking patent examiners to use their heads.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    haiku, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 10:57am

    A community for users ...

    >> What in that patent does not apply to early BBS systems, for example?

    Compuserve was another example of "a community for users with common interests to interact in"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: IRS Audit.

    The IRS made some change to my filing and they sent me $900 more than what I had as a refund on my taxes. Waiting to get a notice as to why...I am still skeptical since it made my total return more than the amount I paid in taxes the entire year.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 11:00am

    Re: >.

    They can kiss my black ass!!!!

    You should try wiping sometime! =)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 11:17am

    Re: Prior art

    And let's not forget MUDs, MUSHes, and the like. Way back in the day before the internet was open to the public, I ran one of the more popular "social" MUDs. It wasn't a role-playing game, it was designed as a space where people could interact socially. It also used for teleconferencing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    McShazo (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 11:24am

    Party

    These guys should get with the other guys that patented the linked list and have a party.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Tyanna, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 11:56am

    "system for creating a community for users with common interests to interact in."

    Technically any gathering of people that was organized in some way would fall under that. So, if you use email to organize a party, does that infringe on this patent?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    known coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 12:48pm

    Do i have to pay

    A quarter every time i post here to Cross Atlantic Capital Partners or does mike do it for me?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    The Guelph CoSy System.

    Anyone who is interested in breaking this patent, 6,519,629, might find it worthwhile to look at the CoSy system, which was developed at the University of Guelph, in Ontario.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CoSy_(computer_conferencing_system)

    Circa 1990, a group of us at the University of Oregon were using a CoSy system, with the sitename CIE (Campus Information Exchange) on the local network. The founding organizer was a man named Steve VanDevender. His lieutenant was a man named Neil Ivan Parker. They were both still at Oregon when I last heard from them, but that was some years ago.

    Circa 1990, CoSy supported multiple "conferences," each of which had its own moderator, appointed by the general manager, and the moderator could create "subconferences" within the conference, and could manage a list of persons allowed to view the conference, as well as deleting posts, etc. Within a subconference, there was, if I recall rightly, a threaded discussion system. Cosy also supported its own internal e-mail and "chat" (ie. instant messenger), as well as member profile pages. CoSy was appreciably in advance of CompuServe's systems at the time. It would certainly be a starting point for KSR v. Teleflex analysis of the '629 Patent.

    Here is a statistical portrait of CIE. This was a Unix/CoSy system, built with the expectation that people were entitled to know quite a lot about each other. It was possible to determine things like when people had last logged on. As of 1994, there were about three hundred people on the books, meaning they had been given passwords. No one was given a password without taking some positive initiative, ie. sending in a snailmail application or going in to an office to see someone. No one achieved membership by "clicking." Only about a hundred people had logged in since 1991, however, and about forty had chosen to personalize the "resume pages" provided by the system. Between them, they generated something like five megabytes of text in three years (practically none of it quotation, which the system rendered superfluous).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Prior art

    I forgot about the MUDs! That was a secondary feature available through my friend's BBS - we were able to play against users of other BBS systems. He added internet access but at that moment in time (1993 or so) the provider was charging him per minute and there was no easy way to pass that cost onto the paid subscribers of his board.

    Microsoft more or less bought him out in 1996 - it was a wonderful transition. They hired him to 'run a BBS' on the MSN network, and he was paid an insane amount of money to sit home in his underwear and moderate a couple of forums.

    No more worries about server maintenance, paying a credit card processor or collecting subscriber fees because now he was an employee (actually, an independent contractor) for Microsoft. The timing was perfect, because the last commercial BBS in our area was gone by 1998.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    Re:

    There are other countries that do not recognize software patents and no, they do not appear to be any more or less thriving than any other country.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:04pm

    Re:

    But that's really because the weather there is nice or the tax deductions are nice too. The fact that plaintiffs just so happen to move their operations to East Texas just before a patent lawsuit is just a coincidence.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:16pm

    Re:

    1998 seems to be a bit late, no ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2010 @ 6:18pm

    Re:

    What?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Apr 5th, 2010 @ 9:46pm

    Re: Re:

    New Zealand is in the process of changing their Patent Act. As seen in Clause 15(3a) here [http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2008/0235/latest/DLM1419230.html#DLM1419230 ] "A computer program is not a patentable invention."

    Though it is still in the process of committee and they are considering whether to change it slightly to make embeddable apps patentable *shrug* [http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/2010/04/nz-patent-reform-proposals-good-news.html ]

    Oh and as for this supposed article. I just briefly read the actual patent application and their flowcharts and explanation are VERY similar to process and Requirement diagrams/notes that I developed in late 1997 to do with a few online communities that I was involved with back then (Namely Biancas, The Park, et al.) which were themselves drawn from Multi-user BBS systems, which were themselves drawn from older MUD and Telecom Mainframe Chat Systems ;)

    I wonder if Stewart Brand and/or Larry Brilliant of The Well know about this bullshit patent?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    staff, Apr 6th, 2010 @ 11:53am

    good money after bad

    "patent system defenders in our comments insist that the patent system rarely makes mistakes in issuing patents"

    It's not that the PTO does not make mistakes, but rather when they do it rarely matters as those patents are seldom enforced because it costs millions to assert a patent and no one will throw good money after bad.

    Patent reform is a fraud on America. It is patently un-American.
    Please see http://truereform.piausa.org/ for a different/opposing view on patent reform.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2010 @ 1:26am

    Sounds like compunet was there a decade before. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compunet

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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